Beaverton student who won regional Siemens Competition got idea from mom's broken leg
Nov 15, 2012 (Menafn - The Oregonian - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --If Raghav Tripathi's mom hadn't broken her leg while skiing, the Westview High School senior might not be headed to the national Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology.
The 17-year-old won the Caltech Regional Siemens Competition last Saturday and is one of six individuals and six teams from across the nation who will compete Dec. 1-4 in the finals in Washington, D.C.
Tripathi was the only competitor from Oregon at the regionals and was the sole individual winner for his "painless painkiller," which earned him a 3,000 scholarship.
Tripathi was in elementary school when he saw his mom sideswipe a tree and an ambulance ferried her away.
He knew at the time that pain medication made her sick, but she managed through the pain without any drugs.
"It hit me, when you have a small cut, you feel pain at first and it automatically goes away," Tripathi said.
Years later, he came up with the idea to harness the body's natural pain killer, anandamide, rather than introduce a foreign substance into the body.
"It combines two realms of homeopathic and conventional medicine," Tripathi said.
Taken by pill or injection, the teenager's creation would inhibit the breakdown of anandamide.
"It's better to have your body produce the compounds that make you healthy again."
Having the idea and actually creating it are two different things, however.
Tripathi had worked out a research proposal at the Oregon Health & Science University lab, but he needed a lab that specialized in pain medication. He went online and found a program at Stony Brook University in New York that pays for students to do research with a mentor.
He was accepted and spent 10 weeks last summer at the Institute of Chemical Biology and Drug Discovery with professor Iwao Ojima, a cancer and tuberculosis medication researcher.
Ojima hadn't worked with the type of medication Tripathi hoped to create, but he showed the teenager the methods he used on cancer and tuberculosis research. Tripathi simply applied the methods to his own project.
He created the drug and tested it on human enzymes and cells. "It was working even better than expected," he said.
Tripathi had to present his research to a panel of judges at the regional competition. All were professional scientists.
Judge Bil Clemons, a California Institute of Technology assistant professor of biochemistry, was impressed.
"The body of work that Raghav presented ... is something that an accomplished graduate researcher would be proud of," Clemons said in a press release. "It is very reasonable to say that his work could lead to new pain medications."
Tripathi said he was proud to represent not only Oregon but also public schools at the regional competition. It hasn't been easy. Because of budget cuts in Beaverton, the science teacher who understood his project was moved from Westview to another school and has since resigned.
"Nobody in my family is involved in research," he said. His teacher, Debra Cooper, helped him in the beginning with his proposal, he said.
The school labs had only the basics, Tripathi said.
"There are no labs for original research," he said. But the teenager seemed to find a way.
Tripathi wants to be a neurologist and founded a student medical association at Westview. He invites doctors to speak, and students debate controversial medical issues. About 150 kids are members of the after-school club.
His older brother is applying for medical school, but otherwise, Tripathi has no other close relatives in medicine.
His mother, Sunita, stays home and cares for the family and his father, Sharad, is an engineer at Intel.
As for his mom, her broken leg healed long ago, but she didn't know until they were at the competition in California that she was the catalyst for her son's research.
"The taxi driver asked what is his project," said Sunita Tripathi. "I was so happy. Like me, I don't know how many people are in the world like this."
Tripathi said if his medicine is proven effective on humans, it could be decades before it arrives in pharmacies.
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